Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
When one thinks about playing for USA Basketball, there’s a sense of pride that one feels about playing for the red, white & blue, for the United States of America. Many of the best in history have donned the uniforms and won Olympic Gold medals for years.
It’s even better when one can do it as a youth. Every year, there are hopefuls that are chosen to participate in minicamp, which then turns into an invite into training camp, and that’s when you really have to prove yourself. You must prove that you belong amongst the country’s best.
This week, at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School in Bellaire, Texas, a suburb of Houston, 27 of the finest amateurs around the nation were chosen to participate in the U18 Training Camp, for a chance to play for the USA Basketball squad in the FIBA U18 Americas Tournament in Tijuana, Mexico during the week of June 6-12.
Many of the prospects selected were recent high school graduates that will be on a college campus next season, playing Division I basketball. There was one, Corey Floyd, Jr., a native of Franklin, New Jersey, who graduated early from Roselle Catholic High School last summer to go and play at the University of Connecticut. However, he wound up redshirting the entire 2021-22 season for the Huskies & has since transferred to Providence College, where he will suit up for the Friars next season & have four years of collegiate eligibility remaining.
The list of college freshmen on deck were the cream of the crop, like McDonald’s All-Americans such as Anthony Black (Arkansas), Cam Whitmore (Villanova), Kel’lel Ware (Oregon) and Jordan Walsh (Arkansas) were all in the fold, as well as other heavy hitters such as Dior Johnson (Oregon), Mark Armstrong (Villanova), Seth Trimble (North Carolina), Collin Chandler (Brigham Young) and Ty Rodgers (Illinois).
On the high school front, there were many high-major prospects in the Class of 2023, such as 6-foot-8 forward Omaha Biliew (Link Academy, Iowa), 6-foot-10 forward Xavier Booker (Cathedral High School, Indiana), 6-foot-2 guard Kanaan Carlyle (Milton High School, Georgia), 6-foot-6 guard Stephon Castle (Newton High School, Georgia), 6-foot-3 guard Isaiah Collier (Wheeler High School, Georgia), 6-foot-4 guard Caleb Foster (Notre Dame High School, California), 6-foot-7 forward Brandon Gardner (Word of God Christian Academy, California), 6-foot-9 forward Brandon Garrison (Del City High School, Oklahoma), 6-foot-9 forward Zayden High (Arizona Compass Prep School, Arizona), 6-foot-8 forward Gregory “GG” Jackson (Ridge View High School, South Carolina), 6-foot-4 guard Chris Johnson (Montverde Academy, Florida), 6-foot-10 forward Carter Lang (St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Virginia), 6-foot-2 guard Jared McClain (Centennial High School, California) and 6-foot-5 guard Ja’Kobe Walter (McKinney High School, Texas).
The lone sophomore from the Class of 2024 was 6-foot-9 forward Derik Queen, a native of Baltimore who played for the defending national champion & perennial powerhouse Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida, which finished the season as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Eric Dailey, Jr, a 6-foot-6 forward out of another national powerhouse in Florida, IMG Academy, will be playing overseas for Stella Azzura Basketball Academy in Florida. Also, Bryson Warren, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Sherwood, Arkansas, who was originally in the Class of 2023, recently finished his first season playing professionally for Overtime Elite, where he will spent the next couple of seasons before he will be draft-eligible in 2024.
The coaching staff that was handpicked to coach this squad consisted of three head coaches of Division I schools. The head coach was Colorado’s Tad Boyle and the assistants were Michael Boynton from Oklahoma State and Leon Rice from Boise State.
From the beginning of camp, the competition was fierce and playing hard was a must. By the second day of camp, when the first round of cuts came into play, only 17 players advanced to the next round & ten were sent home.
Throughout the next couple of days, it was all about fundamentals with the team. The execution of plays were sharp & were done with precision. When Boyle and the rest of the coaches spoke to the players, they spoke to them with respect and taught them the finer points of the game. When players were caught walking, Boyle replied, “Come into the huddle with purpose.”
Many of the incoming collegiate freshmen, who have yet to attend summer workouts at their respective schools or have yet to play in their first college game, obliged without a response.
Throughout the weekend, the competition increased & things became even more competitive. Armstrong & Trimble matched up head-to-head throughout the days, as they emerged as the two premier floor generals in the gym. Both played tight defense on one another, but they still made shots and then went back to the other end & tried to duplicate what the other did.
McCain was impressive with his shooting throughout the weekend. It seemed as if he always hit his shots at the right time throughout drills & scrimmages. During one scrimmage, as both teams were tied at 10-10 with less than 10 seconds to go, he launched a jumper from behind three-point arc and it hit the rim multiple times before finally going into the net. Call him lucky, but it was definitely fate that it went in, because following the shot, many of the players mobbed him in celebration.
In the front court, many of the forwards were skilled and put the ball on the floor. However, four players that made the most impact were Ware, Whitmore, Jackson & Booker. All three had a major presence on the boards, were able to block shots and all owned the paint, as they showed dominance when playing above the rim.
As of yesterday, the list was cut down to 13. The finalists were Armstrong, Black, Carlyle, Castle, Dailey, Garrison, Jackson, McCain, Queen, Rodgers, Trimble, Ware & Whitmore. However, there is only twelve spots. One player will have to go home.
Today’s practice will be the last practice before the team heads to Tijuana for the FIBA U18 Americas Tournament, where their first opponent will be none other than the Dominican Republic squad this coming Monday, June 6th. The other teams in the field are Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina.
The question now remains, will this USA team make it to the championship game on June 12th and come back across the border with the gold medal? This team, with all of its firepower looks like they have the chance. Time next week will tell.